Obituary: Professor Tom Bottomore

Thomas Burton Bottomore, sociologist, born 8 April 1920, Reader in Sociology London School of Economics 1952-64, Professor of Sociology Simon Fraser University Vancouver 1965-67, Professor of Sociology Sussex University 1968- 85, books include Karl Marx: selected writings in sociology and social philosophy (with Maximilien Rubel) 1956, Sociology: a guide to problems and literature 1962, Elites and Society 1964, Classes in Modern Society 1965, Austro- Marxism (with P. Goode) 1978, Political Sociology 1979, A Dictionary of Marxist Thought 1981, Theories of Modern Capitalism 1985, died Ditchling East Sussex 9 December 1992.

TOM BOTTOMORE was Britain's best-known and most highly regarded sociologist. He had a remarkable international reputation; wherever one went one encountered his own students and also people who had found his books the most accessible and enlightening entry into the subject. Those who knew him loved him and his death will be a great personal blow to many people. He was revered in the Third World and especially in India. His textbook Sociology (1962) was first written for Indian students and went through successive editions over several decades. He was widely respected for his untiring international work, especially for his presidency of the International Sociological Association.

Bottomore was trained at the LSE and became a lecturer there, until he left to become Professor at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, in 1965. In 1968 he returned to Sussex University and remained there until he 'retired' in 1985. The conference to mark his retirement showed how great had been his influence, drawing a galaxy of Britain's best-known scholars. Bottomore, however, kept going as active as ever until the day of his death. Among his many projects was a magisterial dictionary of 20th-century social thought (edited with William Outhwaite) that will be published shortly.

Bottomore was a lifelong Marxist. His Marxism was open, undogmatic and humane, and his work was highly regarded by non-Marxists. His selection of the writings of Karl Marx (edited with Maximilien Rubel) was published in 1956 and was for many thousands their first encounter with the real Marx. It remains the best short collection to this day. His books Elites and Society (1964) and Classes in Modern Society (1965) showed that sociology did not have to be polysyllabic and inaccessible. Later on he returned to his interests in economic sociology and produced a number of remarkable books, including his commentary on TH Marshall's Citzenship, published in 1992.

Bottomore was a great force for calm and sanity in the overcharged world of sociology after the student revolts of 1968 and the intense theoretical debates and dogmatic conflicts of the 1970s. He championed the democratic and civilised Marxism of the Austrians, whose country he loved. He was a great teacher, best in small groups and with graduate students. Often he would sit quietly, listening to strident opinions and then would inject sense and balance with a few quiet and well- chosen words.

His greatest sorrow was the death of his beloved second wife, Mary, which denied him the companionship in his retirement that he had enjoyed during their life together. He responded to this bitter blow with characteristic dignity and courage. He continued to advocate peace, social justice, the cause of the world's poor and excluded, but also democracy and sanity. He was never a believer in the violent revolutionary extremism of the Left, equally he was sure that the divisive and rigid right-wing economic liberalism that was so fashionable in the 1980s would pass away and that saner and kinder ideas would come to prevail.

If there is a word to sum up Tom Bottomore's life it would be constancy. He pursued his course untroubled by fashion and with indifference to pretension.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn